Read “Adrift” -- Excerpt from

The Curse of the Pirate’s Treasure

Rusty sat paralyzed, gulping oxygen into her lungs.  The pitching waves controlled the boat.  Hair plastered against her head, the bedraggled girl had no energy or weapons to fight back.  The rowboat, so large and heavy to launch, now, near the mouth of the cove drifting out to sea, seemed small and sinkable.  Rusty braced her feet against the sides of the boat and clutched the worn plank where she sat.  A splinter from beneath the seat, where the wood was rough, pierced her palm.  Her cry funneled like vaporizing mist into the vast, darkening sky above her.  No one could hear her pain.  No one even suspected she was a prisoner floating farther and farther from the protection of shore. 

As she raised her hand to inspect the wound, a wave tipped the boat, and Rusty tilted forward, banging her knees on the boat bottom.  When she tried to stand, she lost her balance again.  Back on her knees, she crouched in a tight, miserable heap.  Down low in the center of the boat, she achieved some calmness by forcing in and out deep, slow breaths. Her father had taught her this trick the day they had gone ice skating at Rockefeller Center.  When the wobbly child fell right in his path, his skates sliced across three of her fingers.  Deep breathing had kept her from fainting while he bound up her injury and rushed her to the hospital in a taxi.  However, there was no way her father could save her from this mess.

Gusts of wind and an onslaught of waves pounded her with the intention of defeating her.  She pushed them away, saying, "I've got to match my movements to the movements of the boat.  I'm so dumb.  I've been treating this stupid rowboat as if it were a piece of dry land."  Keeping her weight low was good.  Made her more part of the boat.  Less an intruder.  She lifted her injured palm and tugged the splinter out with her teeth.  The sharp, bee sting-like pain helped her focus.  She pressed her hand in the cold water that whirled around her ankles and soaked her shorts.

Rusty wiped brimming tears out of her eyes and fought her rising panic.  She commanded herself, "I've got to think.  My life might depend on what I do next.  I'll paddle with my hands."  The boat was too wide for her to paddle on both sides at once.  Spreading her body low on the bottom of the boat with one foot hooked around the seat, Rusty plunged her right hand again and again through the water.  With the other hand, she clutched the side of the boat.  After twenty minutes, her whole arm felt numb as she swept it through the frigid ocean.  Her shoulders ached with the strain while her heart knocked against her chest like a demented woodpecker.  The smashing waves made her efforts as useless as a minnow trying to swim up Niagara Falls.  Plan number one bites the dust, she admitted.

Swimming seemed her next, best bet.  Way better than sitting and doing nothing.  She started pumping herself up like she always did before a swim meet at the YWCA.  She rehearsed her game plan.  I'll stand on the seat, dive in and swim for all I'm worth toward that hunchback boulder sheltering under those pine trees.  Then I'll hike to a house.  There, I can call the police.  They'll come after the boat. 

As soon as she thought police, warning bells began clanging inside her head.  Police meant questions.  Questions meant explaining how she'd come by a boat that belonged at the end of the cove.  Explanations meant bringing her mother into the picture.  Not a pretty sight. 

Phoning Alex wasn't a possibility either.  He was spending the day on Baker Island fixing a ferry boat engine. 

As she admitted to herself that she couldn't abandon the boat, she glanced at the coarse rope piled on the bow seat.  It was definitely big enough.   Rusty stretched out and grabbed it, pulling it toward her.  She tied it around her waist, tested the knot, and ate the last of her brownies for extra energy.  After removing her shoes, she raised herself up and then, holding her nose, leaped into the water. 

Fifteen minutes later, her teeth chattered like a dancing skeleton and her arms felt like they had done 1000 pull-ups.  Rusty abandoned her plan.  No way could she tow the boat to shore.  Rough waves and the leaden weight of the boat had teamed up against her to shove her farther from shore than when she had started towing.  The rope had rubbed her stomach raw, and her eyes felt like she had soaked them in chlorine. Water poured in over the sides as she tipped herself into the boat and flopped onto the bottom.

The water, already more than four inches deep, swirled around her numb legs.  Two words kept chasing around inside her skull like rutting stags ramming their antlers: Capsize, sink.  Sink, capsize.  She couldn't shut them up, so she decided to face them, to shrink them down to the size of wrestling hamsters.  She forced herself to think of her predicament as a science experiment.  She formulated two questions.  Can I keep the boat from capsizing if I bring more water in over the side and fill the boat, making it ride lower in the water?  Or will more water make the boat sink?

The coffee can, her worm container, answered her.  It bounced off the bow seat where Rusty had wedge it and splashed into the boat next to her.  It floated.  Her decision was made.  She'd get rid of the water.  Rusty snatched up the bobbing can.  At first, she planned to dump the worms over the side until she remembered how grabbing for the runaway oar had almost dumped her overboard.  "Keep in the middle," she cautioned herself.  As she shook out the worms inside the boat, she promised, "I'll take you to your garden home if we ever make it back to land."  Rusty wished she were confident enough to say when we reach land.

She scooped water into the coffee can.  The first time she heaved water over the side, the wind tossed it right back into her face.  Rusty laughed  her first laugh in hours.  She called, "Two points for you.  I can't win this contest if I don't pay attention."  She bailed 200 more cans of water over the side, the other side where the wind couldn't soak Rusty.  Temporarily, the wind really was her friend, blowing the water away from the boat.  Rusty kept her movements slow.  Quick movements worked against her.  Abrupt actions gave the wind and the sea the advantage as they waited for her to make a mistake.  Like a crew of vengeful pirates, they wanted to throw her overboard into a watery grave.

The weary girl trembled.  The clear morning sky with its warmth and promises of a tasty dinner had shifted during the early afternoon to a sky heavy with clouds and chilling threats.  Brisk wind and breaking waves made her shiver with more than the cold.  How was she going to get back to shore?  No fishing craft or sailboats were anywhere nearby.

Rusty could hear Alex say, "Don't underestimate the sea.  She's a dangerous lady."  How she wished Alex would come chugging along in his fishing boat.  He'd toss her a line, and she'd tell him a whopper about how a giant eagle with fierce talons had stolen her oars to add to his Paul Bunyan size nest.  When Alex's friendly chuckle turned into waves slapping the boat, Rusty scolded herself.  Daydreaming  not just stupid  but dangerous.  It wasted time, and she didn't know how much time she had left.

I can't let this windbag or this puddle of water beat me, Rusty resolved.  I've got to take control, make them do my will.  If I could figure them out better, then maybe we could be a team.  Although the current was shoving the boat toward the mouth of the cove, the wind seemed a possible ally.  When she held her hand up to test the wind, its cool blasts blew toward the shore  the one nearest her  no more than half a mile distant.  Way out in the bay, too far away to be of any help, she spied many tiny sails.  Perhaps a race.

Watching the distant sailboats inspired her.  "I could make a sail."  Because she had bailed out all the water, the boat was lighter and would be able to catch the wind.  Pleased with her idea, she took stock of her sail-making materials.  On her fingers, she ticked off a sweatshirt, a tee-shirt, shorts, underwear and lots of string.  Rusty decided, "My remaining fishing rod will by my mast."  Tying the long sleeves of the sweatshirt around the pole, she raised it high above her head.  The sweatshirt flapped uselessly and wrapped itself around the pole.

Dropping the oars had disqualified rowing.  Puny muscles had eliminated towing.  Unable to figure a way to stretch out her clothes so they could catch the wind, Rusty struck out sailing as a possibility.  She sighed with relief because she sure didn't want to sail around in a rowboat naked until she was rescued.

Rescue!  What could she do to attract someone's attention?  The red sweatshirt whipping around in the wind triggered an idea.  Again, she raised the fishing pole and began waving it above her head while she kept a low stance in the boat.  She prayed to Poseidon, the sea god, that her makeshift flag would bring reinforcements.  In her loudest voice, Rusty yelled, "HELP!  HELP! HELP ME!"  Then she shrieked shrill screams, sure that these Indian war whoops would carry across the cove to the ears of someone.  She yelled and screamed and shouted and then screamed again, afraid now that silence was her enemy.  When Rusty's voice ached with hoarseness, she took little sips of lemonade or sucked orange slices. 

The roughness of the white caps tilted her boat like a vengeful Rumpelstiltskin, trying to tip a cradle over and steal a helpless babe.  Although the fishing boats weren't due until late afternoon, Rusty prayed they would return early.  She began shouting cheers she had learned at school basketball games.  The rhyme and the rhythm eased the monotony of wordless screams.  "Hit'em in the right knee," she shouted.  "Hit'em in the left knee," she roared.  "Hit'em in the weenie," she belted out at full volume and giggled as she used to with her best friend, Lydia, when they cheered on their team.  "We need a basket," she finished lamely.  All laughter vanished when no Lydia jumped up beside Rusty to applaud victory.

Above her, the gulls' raucous cries scratched at her ear drums, already aching from the shrill pitch of her own desperate voice.  In the back of her mind, she heard the motor before she identified the sound.  Frantically, she scanned the shrouded sky for an aircraft and hoped it was the kind that could land on water.  "What if the pilot can't see me?" she worried until she realized there was no airplane to be seen.

Instead, a motorboat, a small one, was barreling through the waves, speeding towards her.  Rusty screamed, "Help" again until she heard the welcome, "I'm coming.  I'm coming.  Don't move."

As the motorboat neared, she saw a tanned, blond boy in cutoff jeans, not much older than herself, steering the craft.  The showoff from the fishing fleet, she realized.  No time to be picky.  His close cropped hair looked like a lawn mower had just clipped it for a putting green.  His eyes squinted, and his mouth was pulled down in anger.  He raised one fist to shake at her.

Rusty stood straighter, dropped the fishing pole, and waved both arms wildly.  "I've lost my oars.  Come get me."

The boy bellowed, "Sit down."  Not obeying, Rusty stepped up on the seat, then stunned him by diving into the water.  "Stop," he shouted, but he was too late.  Like a small torpedo, she swam straight toward him.  He cut the engine and leaned over the side to grasp her hands.  Roughly, he yanked Rusty into his boat.  She whacked her foot on the seat as she landed in a heap near some coiled rope.

"You fool," he said in a voice so quiet that she flinched.  "You could have drowned.  My motor could have sliced you to pieces.  Tiny, bloody pieces."

"I didn't drown!  I'm safe now."  Her voice quavered. "I'm Rusty.  Take me home, back to our cabin.  It's near your family's wharf," she pleaded.  The boy stared at her.  "I want to go home."  Waterlogged and shivering, Rusty gripped the sides of the boat as if she'd never let go.  "Please," she begged.

The tall teen lifted her and then plunked her down on the front seat of the boat.  He was so skinny that his ribs stuck out as if he had shot up in height before his body weight could catch up.  Scowling, he threw her a small oil-stained towel, not much bigger than a rag.  Rusty dried off her face and hands, grimacing as the oil smeared black all over her.  She couldn't stop her teeth from chattering.  The boy opened a large wooden box full of tools and an extra gasoline can.  He pulled out a red and black plaid, wool jacket.  He held it in his callused hands and examined the pitiful girl before he dropped it on her lap.

Rusty wrapped the jacket around her quivering shoulders and clutched it closed with her fingers.  As she bent over and rubbed her aching foot, she recalled how the boy's voice had shook when he described what her sliced body would look like.  Was it relish over gore, or had he been frightened, too?

He started his engine and steered toward the drifting boat.  Her intention was to ignore him.  However, she couldn't help being impressed that a boy not quite old enough to drive a car could control his boat with such ease.  Despite the large swells, he didn't even bump the rowboat as he reached over to grab the rope and tie it behind his boat, before heading towards shore.

Rusty sat hunched over in crumpled misery.  After a long silence, he cleared his throat.  "You know," he said, "that boat of yours looks like Martin's dory." 

Rusty wouldn't look up at him.  Instead, she watched the bruise on her ankle turn purplish blue.  "Never saw anybody look more like a idiot than you flapping that sweatshirt and screeching like a banshee."  Rusty remained silent.  The boy didn't let up.  "What were you doing out in the middle of the cove?  What happened to your oars?  Hey girl, you hear me, or are you deaf as well as stupid?"

"I was fishing," Rusty answered in a hoarse voice.  "The wind kept taking me farther away from shore, and I lost my oars," she confessed all over again. 

"Next time use an anchor," the boy suggested.  "Not that you'd recognize an anchor if you saw one.  It was a fool time to be out in such a small boat.  Didn't you see the wind picking up?"

"Yes, of course, I did."  She tried to keep the squeak out of her voice.  "It's just that when I tried to make a sail, my clothes wouldn't stay stretched out to catch the wind."  Tears obscured her view of him until he looked liked a watercolor painting with all its colors blurring together.

"Didn't you realize that one of those fancy yachts might have cruised in and not even seen you?  It would have smashed you to bits."

"The next thing you'll be saying is that pirates might have kidnapped me and taken me prisoner."  Her hand stole to her pocket.  She rubbed one finger over the coin that had brought her this lucky rescue.  Maybe, the coin really was cursed.  This guy was no enchanted prince charming.  She looked up at her smug rescuer.

For a dizzying moment, Rusty thought she had seen the same two crossed swords etched into his pendant.  She rubbed her bloodshot eyes and realized her tired mind was playing tricks on her.  The boy stared at her suspiciously and tucked the silver pendant inside his navy tee-shirt. 

"Are you going to tell me that I was in danger of pirates forcing me to walk the plank unless I gave up my loot?"  Rusty asked.

He abruptly changed the subject.  "That dive you took, not half bad," he said.  "But real stupid.  You swim good, like an Olympic swimmer."

She looked at him in surprise and grinned, "Yeah, I'm good.  Just like a pro." 

He turned around and studied the boat following in their wake.  "I was right.  That boat looks exactly like Martin's boat that he keeps down at the other end of the cove.  Except his has oars, of course.  In Nova Scotia, stealing is a serious crime.  Big fine, you know, for stealing boats in this province."

"Turn around!  Quick!" Rusty ordered.  "We have to go back." 

"Are you crazy?  Haven't you fished enough for one afternoon?" the annoyed teenager mocked.

"The oars!  We have to find the oars," Rusty said.  "You're right.  I did take the boat.  Now, I have to return it with everything in it just like I found it."

"You mean I have to return it.  I wouldn't let you in that boat again if you begged me.  You can't even hold onto the oars.  You couldn't possibly return it to its owner.  It might never be seen again if you step foot in it."  Nevertheless, he turned his motorboat around.  It took them twenty minutes to spot the drifting oars, camouflaged in the turbulent gray-green water.

Again, Rusty was impressed as he scooped up the oars without shutting off his motor.  "Thanks," Rusty said.

"I wondered when you were going to thank me.  But, I wasn't expecting much from one of you tourists."

His curt words stung her.  No way was she like those bikini-clad tourists.  They struck poses like cheap figureheads on the bows of the yachts when they anchored in the cove.

Rusty needed his help again but didn't think she could count on him.  She raked her fingers through her tangle of curls as if putting them in order would give order to her thoughts.  She straightened her shoulders and looked directly at him.  "I need a favor."  She hesitated.  Then in a rush of words, she blurted out, "Promise me that you won't tell my mom or that Martin guy about the boat.  It's really important that you promise me.  Mom gets rattled easily.  I can't risk worrying her.  She's…she's kinda fragile right now."

"Sorry, kid.  I've got to tell your mum.  It's my nautical duty.  You don't know the first thing about boats.  They're not something to fool around with.  Maybe, your mum will keep you on land where you belong.  However, if the boat and the oars  after they dry out  aren't damaged, I might consider promising not to tell Martin that you stole his boat.  He's a real crank."

"Borrowed," she corrected.

"Stole," he repeated.  "And I will return Martin's boat.  I know exactly where he stows it.  Now, it's your turn.  Promise me you'll work hard not to be such a moron.  Next time, you might not get so lucky.  Then, it will be a cold corpse, not a scared girl, that I fish out of the sea and return to your mum."

Rusty shuddered again.  "I promise," she crossed her heart.  "I won't steal boats anymore.  I won't go out in one alone.  Not until I can row super well."  She looked back to the center of the cove where she had bobbed around during her lonely vigil.  "Until I can row the whole length of the cove without stopping.  I didn't know it was going to be so hard," she admitted.

Rusty's rescuer also looked to where he had first seen the boat wobbling up and down and the pathetic red flag of a sweatshirt being flung back and forth.  "You'll need someone to teach you."  Rusty's blue eyes opened in astonishment as she rubbed her hands together with pleasure.  "And it sure won't be me.  I got better things to do with my time than teach all you clueless tourists how to row."

Rusty slumped back down on her seat.  He cut off his engine as he grabbed the post on the end of a wharf.  "It's my pa's dock," he boasted.  "I helped him repair it after the storm of '82 tore it up pretty good."  When he turned to help her off the boat, she was scrambling up the ladder.  She intended to tell her mom about the day's disasters before that swaggering braggart could. 

"Better  return the boat now.  You promised, boy," Rusty hissed as she limped off the dock.  In her hurry, she forgot to grab her backpack and the rest of her stuff.

Picking up his soaked jacket that she had dropped on the boat bottom, the boy said a silent prayer.  "God, make sure she keeps her promise.  I don't ever want to see another drowned kid."  He shuddered as he pictured the pale, still figures of Terry and Olsen Jamison lying on the dock.  To their spirits, he whispered, "You shouldn't have been playing in your pa's boat."

To her back, he called, "Don't mess with the sea anymore.  You'll do yourself in.  And girl," he raised his voice, "my name's Mathew Brady.  I know where you live," he admitted for all he had taunted her with being a tourist.  "Tell your mum I'll be stopping by after supper."

Without looking back, Rusty pretended not to hear and hurried down the gravel road toward home.